Al-Qa'ida and the Hariri bombing – many interesting questions remain (by t_desco)
Let me begin by stating the obvious: a group that plots to blow up a truck in the Holland Tunnel in New York is also capable of blowing up a truck on Beirut's seafront.
I don't want to suggest that Assem Hammoud had anything to do with the Hariri killing, but I am not so sure the same can be said of his associates:
"The security officials told Newsday that Hammoud had contact with at least two of 13 men who were arrested by Lebanese authorities in December for belonging to al-Qaida and planning attacks from Lebanon. The officials said Hammoud was in touch with Hassan Nabaat, a Lebanese, and Hany Shanti, who has both Lebanese and Jordanian nationalities."
Other targets in mind, Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, July 9, 2006
Hassan Mohammad Nabaa has been described as the "Emir" of the terrorist cell (Arrestation de membres proches d’el-Qaëda venus de Syrie ?, L'Orient-Le Jour, 11 Février 2006). He had already been involved in the (al-Qa'ida related) Dinniyeh uprising in early 2000.
L'Orient-Le Jour describes Hani Hachem al-Chanti as "palestinien naturalisé, ingénieur informatique". According to Addiyar, Hani al-Shatti is Jordanian and was born in 1980 (Addiyar, February 11, 2006, 18th Year, Issue No. 6182, translated by Nibras Kazimi).
The same article reveals that the men "formed the nucleus of an Al-Qaeda Organization in the north" and that "Malik Muhammad Nab’a, brother of Hassan, would bring suspicious bags to Hani Al-Shatti and to Khalid Taha, who is in hiding after having fled to ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp". (Assem Hammoud also confessed that he "had already undergone training in light weapons in Ein El-Hilweh", AP, July 8, 2006 ; see also this report by the Daily Star).
Khaled Midhat Taha is a "religious associate" of Ahmed Abu Adas (first Mehlis report, §174) and he is suspected of involvement in the Hariri killing.
There had been numerous reports that Khaled Taha was also associated with the terrorist cell, but there is still no official confirmation, as far as I know.
First, as-Safir had reported that Taha himself was among the detained:
Entre los detenidos figura Jaled Taha, supuestamente implicado en el asesinato en febrero pasado del ex primer ministro libanés Rafic Hariri.
(translated by EFE, "Detenidos trece presuntos miembros de Al Qaeda en el Líbano", 13-01-2006).
An-Nahar reported that Taha narrowly escaped arrest:
Khaled Taha, one of the ring members who remains at large, is believed to have recruited Ahmed Abu Adas, the militant who made a dubious taped confession about his involvement in the Hariri murder.
An Nahar quoted a source as saying police was close to arresting Taha but his capture was impeded by Friday's report in as Safir about the arrest of the remaining members of his cell.
Lebanon Cracks Qaida Cell Coming from Syria, Naharnet, January 15, 2006
The Daily Star quoted an article by Al-Hayat saying that Khaled Taha was the original targed of the raid:
Al-Hayat sources said the suspects were arrested during a search for Palestinian national Khaled Midhat Taha, whose name was mentioned in the report of the international commission investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. ...
The sources said the Lebanese security authorities collected information revealing that Taha returned to Lebanon a few weeks ago.
The authorities located two of Taha's relatives, including Abdullah Hallaq, who was arrested with the ring in Sidon.
The sources said security forces raided the ring's hide-out based on Hallaq's confession.
Al-Qaeda suspects may not be linked with terror group: report
The Daily Star, January 21, 2006
AKI quoted yet another article by as-Safir saying that Taha was the "head of the Lebanese al-Qaeda cell":
The alleged head of the Lebanese al-Qaeda cell, a Syrian national (sic; t_d) named Khaled Taha, was not captured in the December raid and is still at large, the sources told as-Safir.
LEBANON: AL-QAEDA SOUGHT FIGHTERS FOR IRAQ, REPORT SAYS, AKI, 31-Jan-06
L'Orient-Le Jour quoted a report by LBC saying that Khaled was one of the two most dangerous members of the group:
Citant des sources informées, la LBC a révélé que les membres de ce groupe étaient en relation avec un Syrien connu sous le nom de Jamil ... .
Les mêmes sources ont en outre révélé que les deux personnes les plus dangereuses de ce groupe, Bilal Zaaroura et Khaled Taha, seraient toujours en fuite. Ces derniers sont entrés au Liban en décembre dernier.
Arrestation de membres proches d’el-Qaëda venus de Syrie ?
L'Orient-Le Jour, 11 Février 2006
I still think that Khaled Midhat Taha may be the key to solving the Hariri case. In any case, there are many interesting questions for investigative journalists:
They could demand an official statement on Khaled Taha and his relation to the other members of the terrorist cell.
They could look into Taha's family background and confirm if he is indeed related to Sheikh Abdullah Hallaq, the founder of the Islamic Struggle Movement which is currently headed by Sheikh Jamal Khattab, the imam of Al-Nour Mosque in Ain al-Hilweh who is also suspected of being close to al-Qa'ida.
Finally, they could start looking for "the individual named “Mohammed” whom Mr. Abu Adass had befriended at the mosque"(second Mehlis report, §62) and who is suspected of being involved in the disappearance of Abu Adas.
They met at the mosque, that means that many people must have seen him (Adas was a relatively prominent figure at his local mosque, I believe):
Enquiries carried out by the Mission established that approximately three years ago Ahmad Abu Adas changed from being a carefree teenager to becoming a religious fundamentalist. Approximately one month prior to going missing Ahmad Abu Adas informed his family that he had met a new friend at the Al-Huri mosque, where he sometimes led the prayers. (Fitzgerald report, §41)
There is another interesting passage in the Fitzgerald report:
Information from the investigation showed that Mr. Abu Adas had a computer at his home, which was seized as part of the investigation. The seized items included 11 videotapes, 55 CDs, 1 floppy disk and a computer hard drive. Other than subversive information/ data allegedly found on the hard drive, there was very little indication that Mr. Abu Adas had subversive or violent tendencies. (Fitzgerald report, §42)
Just like Assem Hammoud:
Mother, neighbor describe terror suspect as 'peaceful', The Daily Star, July 10, 2006; Attack plans tied to suspect's computer, AP, July 10, 2006.